Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Personal Power

A few years ago, author Vicki Hinze gave me a card with some great advice.

I think the advice applies to life in general and especially the writer's journey.

The advice can be particularly effective if you look at yourself in the mirror and say the following to yourself--a very unique person:

I am flexible and open to change.

I am responsible and act in good faith.

I embrace only positive attitudes.

I am grateful and respect my work.

I write with purpose, success is not hollow.

I focus on solutions not challenges.

I have my own vision of success.

I know trials always precede opportunities.

I permit myself to fail my way to success.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Woman's Best Friend by Sandy Semerad

Joseph Campbell was known for saying, “Follow your bliss.”

P-Nut, my shih tzu, does this instinctively. She sniffs a wild flower like she’s reading a masterpiece.

Eckhart Tolle would be proud. She came into the world knowing how to live in the moment and give unconditional love and I suppose that’s why it’s difficult for me to believe that some human beings—I use the word loosely--train their dogs to fight and kill for amusement. The pit bull terrier is the breed they usually pick.

It saddens me. My daughter once had a Pit Bull named Sonja who could lick you to death, maybe, but never displayed a vicious streak, unlike some pit bulls that have maimed, killed people and animals whenever they were allowed to run free.

I once heard about a feisty pit bull named Major who roamed the farms around Hartford, Alabama, the town adjacent to where I grew up. “Major could tear your butt for a new one,” it was said.

Major was particularly unpopular with farmers because he killed hogs. One day Major made a terrible error. He killed Cody Ryles’ prize pig.

Cody grabbed his shotgun and sent Major to the great pit bull heaven in the sky.

Was Major bred for fighting and for the amusement of humans? I wondered, but no one seemed to know. I can’t believe he inherited his meanness.

I’ve read that pit bulls are a relative of the English bulldog. I’ve never owned an English bulldog, but I once heard about one named Bozo.

Bozo was trained to hunt wild hogs. He would bay the hogs and grab them by their ears until the capture was complete, the story goes. He was alternately tough and gentle. Tough, because he developed an immunity to rattlesnake bites.

Once when Bozo tried to catch a rattlesnake, the snake bit him and filled Bozo with venom. Bozo swelled up and almost died.

When he recovered, Bozo would grab every rattlesnake he saw by the neck and shake the dickens out of it. If the snake bit Bozo, he didn’t care, because the venom didn’t affect him one way or the other.

I have never had a dog like Bozo. My dogs have always been my confidants and guardians. As a child, I had a collie that followed me around and told on me if I did anything he thought was inappropriate.

I was a preschooler when he told on me for trying to burn down a few bushes in my back yard.

Yes, I’m sad to say, I was playing with matches. I must have thought burning the bushes would be a fun thing to do. Fortunately, Jack, our collie, barked his disapproval and told my mother before I started what could have been a major forest fire.

My late Mother used to talk about how Jack protected our family. I have to agree he was beyond wonderful, but then, most of my dogs have been wonderful, and I’m thinking even pit bulls can be wonderful too, when given half a chance.

I have read they are a cross between an English terrier and an English bulldog. I suppose most dogs are in the mixture category, far removed from what is called a pure breed.

When I lived in Atlanta, we had a dog named Sam who was said to be a mix of English terrier and German shepherd. One might say this combination would bring violence, but Sam was a sweet dog, although mischievous.

He loved to roam about and bring me contraband. One time he brought me my neighbor’s old house slippers, something I had no need for, but Sam acted excited. You would have thought he was giving me a diamond. He scratched on the screen door, and when I came to see what he wanted, he had the old torn slippers in his mouth.

I scolded him with “No, no.”

He cocked his head from side to side, not understanding obviously.

Another time, he snatched an old flannel, cherry-decorated nightgown from my neighbor’s clothesline. He had to jump our backyard fence in order to get it. The gown was ripped in the process. I’m ashamed to say I was too embarrassed to return it.

Ultimately, the torn gown ended up in my washing machine and then in the dryer. I was looking for something to frump around in one morning and lacking anything else, I put on the infamous gown.

As luck would have it, my neighbor—the rightful owner of the gown--came over to borrow a cup of sugar that morning. I had completely forgotten the gown’s origin until I saw my neighbor’s distressed expression at the sight of her flannel gown on my body.

Despite my embarrassment, Sam continued his antics until he met his maker one day. The pond behind our Stone Mountain home froze. Sam fell through the ice while he was chasing the ducks. He froze to death before we could rescue him.

In an attempt to recover from Sam’s death, we adopted a Brittany spaniel named Prince. His desires were simple. He wanted love, to be loved, to eat, chase squirrels, bark at falling leaves, run and play with the ducks.

I think Prince thought he was a duck, because he spent so much time playing with them. When we moved away from the pond, Prince suffered from depression. The lady who purchased our pond home heard about Prince’s agony and asked if he could return to his old homestead.

It was tough to give Prince up. But I wanted Prince to be happy, because I believed we should treat our pets with consideration and love.

In turn, they teach us how to love unconditionally, “follow our bliss” and live in the moment.
I’m still trying to learn that from P-Nut.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Death Caps--part three

We get the word. The jury has reached a verdict.

I can't believe it. They've been sequestered only forth-five minutes.

I'm scared. Rosy looks scared, too. She's trembling all over.

I walk over and give her a hug.

She asks me, “What do you think, Phil?”

“I’m optimistic,” I say, giving her another squeeze. "I love you."

Rosy smiles, but doesn't say she loves me back. That's okay.

I realize she's stressed to the max. Her heart is numb after everything she's had to endure.

The bailiff hands Judge Biggs the paper verdict. Biggs shows no emotion as he silently reads it.

I try to read the jury, but I can't. They all look tired, but relaxed. I'm thinking they're relieved. Their job is done.

Judge Biggs asks foreman Owen Taylor to read the verdict.

“Not guilty on all counts,” Owen announces.

The courtroom erupts in cheers. I hear one objection from a woman I can't see. She yells, "Oh, my God, no."

I run over and grab Rosy. I pick her up and swing her around.

She says, "Don't squeeze me to death, Phil," and laughs.

Lincoln makes two victory signs with his fingers. He hugs Rosy and hugs me.

Rosy says she needs to go to the Ladies room before we walk outside to confront the media. For several minutes, Lincoln and I wait for her.

She comes out of the Ladies Room, smiling and looking happy. I can see she's put on pink lipstick and powdered her face.

We walk toward the glass doors of the courthouse, and I hear Rosy’s cell phone ring, a Madonna song: "She's not me. She's not me. She's not me and she never will be."

Rosy grabs the phone from her Birkin bag and glances at the caller I.D. "It's Candy," she says.

"Hi Sweetie, the jury found me innocent," Rosy says to Candy. "I know...but right now I have to feed the media."

We head toward the pool of reporters at the bottom of the courthouse steps. Candy is still on the phone with Candy. A cameraman bumps Rosy. The cell phone flies from her hand.

I catch the thing before it falls. A barrage of reporters ask Rosy questions like:

"How do you feel?"

"Were you confident you'd be found innocent?"

Candy is still on the phone, thinking she's talking to her mother. I start to explain to Candy what's going on when I hear her whisper, “I’m glad you killed that son of a bitch, Mama.”

Sunday, September 13, 2009

DEATH CAPS--Part two--by Sandy Semerad

When Rosy’s trial resumes, Lincoln calls Dr. Jason Franken to the stand.

Franken is a medical doctor, a horticulturist and expert witness. His last case involved a six-year-old boy who almost died from eating Amanita phalloides— mushrooms also known as “Death Caps,” Franken testifies.

Lincoln puts a photo of Death Caps on an easel for the jury to see. To my eyes, they look like normal mushrooms, except they have white ridges on the undersides.

“One mushroom can contain enough poison to kill an adult,” Franken says. “And cooking them doesn’t neutralize the toxins.”

Lincoln offers a zip bag filled with these mushrooms into exhibition for the jury to examine. “Would you say, Dr. Franken, that someone could easily mistake these Death Cap mushrooms with those purchased in a grocery store?”


“In your experience, have other adults made this mistake?”


“How many adults would you say have mistaken these poisonous mushrooms from eatable ones?”

“There’s really no way of accurately estimating how many deaths and accidental poisonings occur each year from eating these things. Often the symptoms mimic the flu.”

On cross examination, Sammy tries to trip up the expert witness, but Dr. Franken appears unflappable.

Sammy eventually says, “No further questions from this witness, your Honor.”

After Franken steps down, Lincoln calls Towsend Wallace, the owner of Towsend’s Garden Spot. Everybody in this county knows Towsend is the man to ask for advice on plants.

Townsend has transformed many a brown thumb into a green one with his guidance and his own brand of potting soil. More importantly, Michael Hofstadter was one of Towsend’s customers.

Lincoln asks Towsend about Hofstadter’s love of gardening.

“Michael used to say, ‘Getting my hands in dirt is therapy,’” Towsend testifies.

“Did Rosemary Hofstadter share her husband’s gift of gardening?”

“No, Rosy never seemed interested. Michael used to joke that she didn’t know a tomato plant from a corn stalk.”

Lincoln smiles as if he couldn’t be happier with the answer; then turns Townsend over to Sammy who asks only one question.

“With your vast knowledge of plants, wouldn’t you agree most intelligent adults would be afraid to eat a wild mushroom from their yard?”

“I eat wild mushrooms all the time,” Towsend says. “But I know the difference between one that is good for me and one that might kill me.”

After that answer, Towsend steps down and Lincoln calls Rosy’s daughter Candy to the stand.
Candy was supposed to arrive earlier today, but she was in the middle of her college finals.

“Thank God I made it,” she whispers to me on her way to being sworn in. Candy is wearing a simple black dress. Her face is scrubbed free of makeup. She could be Rosy’s twin, but today she looks more fragile than her mother, if that’s possible.

Candy’s whole body trembles as she sits in the witness chair. I’m thinking the jury will feel sympathetic toward her because of her nervousness, although I can't bear to hear her voice quiver.

So I zone out and daydream about the day I first met Rosy. That day, I’d stopped in Bob’s Cleaners and Repair Shop.

Rosy rushed in asking Bob to repair her broken shoe. The heel “popped off,” she said, and handed bob both pieces of her broken shoe that looked like a three-inch Cinderella glass slipper.

“I think I might be able to screw it,” Bob said.

“You want to screw my shoe?” Rosy laughed when she realized what she’d said.

To make matters worse, Bob’s wife Gladys said, “I’m afraid you won’t be able to walk afterwards.”

I snap back to the courtroom scene when I hear Candy's sobbing. “Mother is the kindest, sweetest woman in the whole world, everyone who knows her loves her. She can’t even bring herself to kill a fly.” She turns to the jury. “Please, stop this persecution of my mother.”

The jurors seem sad to be sitting in judgment of Rosy, and I’m hoping they can see from observing Candy her mother did a great job in raising her.

I cringe when it's Sammy's turn to cross examine. “My condolences for the loss of your step father Candy," Sammy says. "I know you’ve suffered a great deal in your young life. You lost your own father to a tragic unexplained accident, didn’t you?”

Lincoln jumps up. “Objection, irrelevant in this case, your honor.”

Biggs hammers the gavel. “Sustained.”

“I’ll withdraw the question, your honor.”

After that, Sammy releases Candy and she steps down. Before she leaves, she whispers to me, "I have to hurry back and take another test."

A string of Rosy’s friends follow Candy to the witness stand. Andrea Quiller, Rosy’s next-door neighbor, who plays the piano at Saint Paul’s Episcopal, testifies about the luncheon at the Hofstadter home the day in question.

“There must have been at least fifty guests. Most everybody brought a dish or something. I remember thinking Michael didn’t look well. Rosy told me she thought he was losing weight too fast. She was worried about his health after he had that stomach surgery. Rosy said she was always very careful about what she fixed him to eat.”

On cross, Sammy asks, “Did you actually see any of the guests at the party bring in Death Cap mushrooms?”

“No, but I arrived at Rosy and Michael’s late. I brought a bean casserole. I noticed the dining table was filled with food. The kitchen counters were, too. I couldn’t tell you what was in there if my life depended on it, and I think Rosy said she couldn’t either.”

“Ms. Quiller, have you ever been to a pot luck lunch or supper where one of the guests brought in strange-looking mushrooms?”

“I’m sure I probably have if mushrooms were called for to make a dish.”

“One last question, Ms. Quiller, did Rosemary Hofstadter tell you that her husband, Michael Hofstadter abused her and that she was miserable in that relationship?”

Andrea bites her bottom lip and sits very still.

“Ms. Quiller, do I need to repeat the question?”

“No, it’s just that what you’ve asked me is...” She hesitates and glances at Rosy as if seeking permission.

Rosy smiles at her.

Andrea continues. “I suppose I don’t have a choice. I’ve sworn to tell the truth.” Andrea inhales and exhales a long breath. “Rosy once said Michael slapped her when he was drunk, but I think she set him straight after that.”

“What do you mean by ‘set him straight’?”

Andrea bites her lip again and turned toward the jury. “Rosy said she threatened to leave Michael if he ever hit her a second time.”

“Was Rosemary Hofstadter unhappy in her marriage?”

“No more than any of us.”

The courtroom erupts with laughter.

Biggs hammers the gavel. “Silence.”

Andrea blushes. Andrea is known for her honesty and to hear her testimony on behalf of Rosy is powerful.

After Andrea testifies, I'm thinking there’s no reason for Lincoln to call Rosy to the stand, but he does.

Seeing Rosy put her trembling hand on that Bible and walk up to the hot seat makes my heart hammer faster than a woodpecker in a hurry.

Tears stream down her lovely face as she clutches the oak banister in front of the witness chair.

Lincoln puts his hands over hers in a touching display of compassion. “Rosemary, did you mean to kill your husband Michael Hofstadter by feeding him poisonous mushrooms?”

“No, no, no.” Rosy swipes her tears with the backs of her hands. “I almost can’t live with myself knowing I might have cooked something for him that could have….” Rosy’s entire body convulses in sobs.

Lincoln hands her a box of Kleenex and says, “Do you need to take a break, Rosemary.”
Rosy shakes her head, no.

Lincoln continues. “Rosemary, I know this is difficult, but I need to ask you how you came to prepare the beef Stroganoff with those mushrooms that the prosecution alleges killed your husband.”

“Beef Stroganoff is, was, one of Michael’s favorite dishes. He’d been craving it. He actually stopped and picked up the sirloin the day before. I had not fixed Beef Stroganoff for him in, oh, I can’t remember when. It had been a long time. I had to refer to an old cookbook and check to see if I had all of the ingredients. I didn’t know if I had mushrooms or not, and then I happened to see them on the counter in a plastic grocery bag.”

“What time was this?”

“About six-thirty, seven.”

“Did the mushrooms look strange to you?”


“Did you think it was strange that the mushrooms were on the counter rather than in the fridge?”

“No, I don’t remember thinking it was strange. I probably thought one of the guests brought them or maybe Michael had picked the mushrooms from his garden. He was always picking vegetables and bringing them in.”

“Tell us what happened after you fixed the Stroganoff.”

Rosy covers her mouth with her hands and looks down at the floor as if gathering her thoughts. “Michael had gone up to his study to catch up on some work, a documentary he’d been researching for some time. He was very excited about it. I didn’t want to disturb him by calling him downstairs to eat. So, I took him a plate.”

“Did you sit with your husband while he ate?”

“A short while. I don’t eat meat, but we did have a glass of merlot together. Afterwards, I went downstairs to clean up the mess from the luncheon that day.”

“Did your husband complain about being sick after he ate the stroganoff?”

“Around eleven, I think it was, I went upstairs. I had a horrible headache. I called out to Michael. I heard him flush the commode in the bathroom next to the study. The bathroom door was closed. He was in there for what seemed like a long while. I knocked and told him I was going to bed, and asked him if he was okay. He said, ‘I don’t feel so hot. I think I’ve got a bug.’ I asked him if he wanted me to call the doctor. He said no. I asked him if I could get him anything and he said, he’d be fine, not to worry.”

Roxy breaks into sobs again and Lincoln waits for Rosy to regain her composure before asking, “And what did you do next?”

“I took two Excedrin PM as I sometimes do when I have a headache and can’t sleep. I didn’t wake up until seven the next morning.”

“Where was your husband when you woke up?”

“I noticed he wasn’t in bed with me. My first thought was Michael had fallen asleep in his lounger in the study. He often did that when he was home and involved with a project.” Rosy starts sobbing again. “But he wasn’t in his lounger. He was on the bathroom floor. His body felt like stone, but I didn’t want to admit he was dead so I called 911." Rosy’s body convulses in another round of sobs.

I’m sure Sammy isn’t looking forward to questioning Rosy. Every member of the jury looks at her with sympathy. Faye Nell Krause appears to be crying and wiping her tears.

I can barely hear Sammy as he whispers his first question to Rosy. “Isn’t it true, Rosemary, that you were angry with you husband, Michael Hofstadter, because he asked you for a divorce after you were forced to put up with his unacceptable behavior?”

Rosy's blue eyes, swollen from crying, widen. “Michael never asked me for a divorce.”

“Do you expect this court to believe that you did not know or suspect your husband was having an affair?”

Rosy wipes her eyes. “I wanted to believe he was true to me, and I suppose I believed what I wanted to believe.”

“What about those strange looking mushrooms? Do you expect this court to believe that an intelligent woman, such as yourself, would not know, or at least suspect, those Death Caps were poisonous and profoundly lethal to someone like your husband who'd had stomach surgery?”

“If I had known I never would have given them to Michael or to anyone.” Rosy’s body shakes with sobs. I want to embrace her now and carry her away.

Sammy finally shuts up, and at that point I'm too nervous to sit there and listen while Lincoln and Sammy give their summations.

Instead, I to outside, away from the media frenzy. I'm shaking and craving a cigarette.

I haven’t smoked in five years, but I break down and bum one from a lady asking for directions to traffic court.

To be continued...

Friday, September 11, 2009

Death Caps by Sandy Semerad

The pain of seeing Rosy looking small and defenseless behind the defense table in Judge Clinton Biggs criminal court hurts like a bullet in the chest.

She’s wearing a dark grey suit with her long blonde hair pulled back in what she calls, “a French twist.”

I’d give my life to free her from this nightmare. To date, I’ve used every legal resource at my disposal as sheriff of this county.

I even cashed in my savings for her bail money. Rosy has no idea I did this. No one knows except Father Windford, the priest at St. Paul’s Episcopal.

Father Windford gathered a group of his congregation together to post bail. Their show of support made the front page of The Daily Sun, where Rosy used to work as news editor.

Most everyone in the community thinks she’s innocent, except Michael Hofstadter’s friends and family and Prosecutor Sammy Prescott, who continues to milk the media circus outside.

“It’s a bum wrap and you know it,” I told Sammy before he won the indictment. Rosy could never kill anyone.”

Sammy responded with the same old worn out cliché I used back when I found out my wife, now ex-wife was cheating on me.

“Love is blind,” he said. “I have it on authority that Rosemary not only poisoned her husband with mushrooms grown in her own back yard, but she also killed her first husband and made it look like an accident.”

“That’s a lie,” I said. I’d heard the truth from Rosy and her grown daughter Candy about what happened to Rosy’s first husband, who was Candy’s father.

Apparently he was an alcoholic and addicted to prescription drugs, a fatal combination. No surprise he passed out in the Jacuzzi and drowned. Rosy and Candy found his body the next morning.

As to the charge that Rosy meant to poison her husband Michael Hofstadter with mushrooms she picked from her yard and cooked in his beef stroganoff, I say preposterous. Rosy is a smart woman, but she can’t discern one mushroom from another.

Rosy turns to smile at me now, and Judge Clinton Biggs shoots me an evil eye as if he knows how I feel about her. In my opinion, Biggs should not be allowed to sit in judgment at Rosy’s trial. Reason being, Hofstadter became the champion of the overweight with his documentary called, My Fat is not who I am, and his Honor weighs four hundred pounds.

I shiver when I watch Mary Lee—Michael Hofstadter’s grown daughter being sworn in. Even before Sammy can ask his first question, Mary Lee blurts out, “Daddy was a loving and generous man, and she killed him.” She then stabs a finger at Rosy who shakes her head, sadly.

Rosy’s attorney, Darrell Lincoln, shoots up out of his chair. “Objection, your honor. That’s opinion, not evidentiary.”

I’m hoping to hell this jury of Rosy’s peers understands the significance of “not evidentiary.” Lincoln is somewhat of a blue blood and likes to spout ten-dollar words when five-cent ones would serve better. No surprise, everyone calls Lincoln by his last name, including his wife and mama.

Judge Biggs, known as “The big judge, who loves to hammer the gavel when he speaks,” yells, “sustained” and hammers the gavel.

Sammy gives a sobbing Mary Lee a tissue. She looks likes a lost orphan, and I’d feel sorry for her if I didn’t know she was the biggest kleptomaniac in this county.

I’m hoping the jurors are privy to Mary Lee’s background, but regardless, the tragedy of Mary Lee’s accusation against Rosy can never be erased from the jury’s memory.

As Hofstadter’s only offspring, Mary Lee is in line, after Rosy, to inherit everything: the multi-million-dollar life insurance payout and all of Hofstadter’s property and film residuals, which knowing Rosy, she would have gladly shared with Mary Lee.

Finally, it’s Lincoln’s turn to question Mary Lee. He approaches the witness stand, smiling sympathetically, probably thinking Mary Lee can’t help but smile back, and it turns out he’s right.

Before Lincoln took Rosy’s case, he represented an elderly man who fell on a banana peel in a grocery store and broke his hip. Lincoln won a ten-million-dollar judgment.

Lincoln runs a hand through his blonde hair. Some say he looks like the actor Michael Douglas.
“Ms. Hofstadter, the night your daddy died, he and Rosemary had a luncheon party at their home, is that right?” Lincoln asked, smiling.

“Yes, but I don’t see what that has to do with anything.”

“Ms. Hofstadter, to make this as painless for you as possible, you need only answer yes or no.” Lincoln flashes a wider smile, showing his unnaturally white teeth.

Mary Lee pouts. “I did.”

Lincoln nods at Mary Lee and then faces the jury. “Those who attended the lunch were asked to bring a dish, because it was pot luck, isn’t that right?”

Mary Lee glances at the judge as if he’d asked the question. “I’m not sure what kind of a thing it was.”

Lincoln walks to the jury well. “Your honor, please instruct the witness to answer the question yes or no.”

“I’m trying, your honor.” Mary Lee gives Biggs her wide-eyed, Betty Boop stare.

“She’s trying,” Biggs says. A few in the courtroom chuckle along with two members of the jury: Owen Taylor, a black teacher at the high school and Faye Nell Krause, a nurse at the hospital.

Biggs hammers the gavel. “Try harder. Okay, Mary Lee? Please repeat the question, Counsel.”

“Isn’t it true that everyone invited to the luncheon at your daddy and Rosemary’s house the day your daddy died was asked to bring a dish?”

“I wasn’t asked to bring one.”

Lincoln sighs. “Your honor, please, instruct the witness to answer the question yes or no.”

Biggs widens his eyes at Mary Lee. “Can you answer that question ‘yes’ or ‘no’?” He hammers the gavel.

“I’m not sure, your honor.”

“You heard her, Counsel.” Biggs pounds the gavel. “She’s not sure. Can we move on or can you rephrase the question?”

“Yes, your honor. Okay, Ms. Hofstadter, did you see guests bring in food to the luncheon held the day your daddy died?”

“I suppose so.”

“Answer yes or no, please.”


“And would you agree that when guests bring a dish to a get together this is traditionally known as pot luck?”

“I guess.”

“Yes or no.”

“Okay, yes, but I don’t see…”

“And wouldn’t you also agree that someone at the luncheon, and that includes you, might have brought into the house the poisonous mushrooms that the prosecution claims killed your daddy?”

“Objection,” Sammy calls out.

“I’ll answer that your honor,” Mary Lee said. She seems composed while glaring at Rosy.

“Rosemary was the one who cooked the beef stroganoff.”

Mary Lee turns herself toward the jury. “Daddy was hungry. He hadn’t eaten much that day. You see, he was forced to eat small portions, because of his stomach stapling surgery. He’d lost close to a hundred pounds in just a few months.”

Lincoln leans toward Mary Lee, his white-knuckled hands gripping the sides of the witness stand. “Ms. Hofstadter, please stick to the question. Now, I’m going to try again, and I would appreciate it very much if you would answer yes or no.”

Mary Lee nods in agreement.

“Your daddy and Rosemary had a pot luck lunch and guests brought in food. That we have agreed upon. Isn’t it possible that anyone attending the luncheon could have brought those poisonous mushrooms into that house?”

Mary Lee shrugs her shoulders while shaking her head, no.

“Even you, Mary Lee Hofstadter, could have brought the poisonous mushroom into the house, which makes me wonder why you didn’t eat any of the beef stroganoff. Is it because you’ll gain financially from your daddy’s death if Rosemary is found guilty?”

Sammy stands. “Objection, your Honor.”

Lincoln points at Rosy. “Rosemary Hofstadter is a vegetarian, but you are not. So, why didn’t you eat the beef stroganoff, Mary Lee?”

Sammy hops up and down as if he’s on a trampoline. “Objection, objection. Defense counsel is badgering this young woman, persecuting her when she’s not the one on trial.”

With Bigg's face looking almost as red as Lincoln’s tie, he hammers his gavel with such force his jowls shake. “Lincoln, one more outburst before I’ve had a chance to rule, and I’ll hold you in contempt.”

“Sorry, your honor,” Lincoln says. “I have no further questions for this witness.”

“I hate beef stroganoff,” Mary Lee says, storming off.

Next up is Michael Hofstadter’s former mistress, a budding actress who reminds me of one of the blonde models I’ve seen in a Victoria’s Secret catalogue, only this gal, Ginger Pandino doesn’t appear to have any secrets. She’s wearing a black, slip-looking thingy that could double as a nightgown.

As if on cue, Ginger Pandino dabs at her swollen eyes and swears to tell the “whole truth and nothing but.”

Sammy walks up, looking sympathetic as if Ginger is the real widow here. I’m surprised Sammy didn’t ask Ginger to dress more conservatively, but maybe he thinks her revealing attire will present the strongest possible motive to the jury. “How long have you known the deceased Michael Hofstadter?”

Ginger wipes her eyes. “We had been dating off and on for…oh…ten years.”

Sammy turns on his heels to stare at Rosy. “Are you saying you started dating him before he met and married the defendant?”

“Yes. I was in the first documentary Michael did. It was on date rape, filmed at UCLA. I was a freshman at the time.”

“Did you love Michael Hofstadter?”

“Yes,” she sobs, “very much.”

“Did the two of you ever talk about getting married?”

“He wanted to back then, but I was the age of his daughter and my folks didn’t approve. So, I married a guy they did approve of, but it didn’t work out.”

The large woman in front of me says, “Hussy,” loud enough to be heard.

Biggs glances in her direction and hammers his gavel. “Be quiet or remove yourself.”

Sammy continues unfazed. “So you’re saying your first marriage ended in divorce, is that right?”

“Yes, and I needed a job to support myself so I asked Michael if he had any work for me to do.”

Sammy points to Rosy. “Was he married to the defendant at that time?”


“And did Michael Hofstadter give you a job?”

“Yes, I became his assistant.”

“How would you describe your relationship?”

“I fought my feelings as he did, but our love was too strong, and he eventually told me he would ask his wife for a divorce.”

Rosy whispers something to Lincoln. He whispers back. Rosy shakes her head, no.

“And did Michael Hofstadter ask his wife for a divorce?”

Lincoln jumps up. “Hearsay, your honor.”

Biggs hammers his gavel. “I’ll allow it as to what Mr. Hofstadter told this witness.”

“I’ll rephrase your honor. Ms. Pandino, did Michael Hofstadter tell you he asked his wife, the defendant, for a divorce?”

“Yes. Michael said she was furious and told him that the prenuptial she signed wasn’t worth the weeds in his garden.”

“Objection,” Lincoln says, his face turning white. “Hearsay.”

“No further questions, your honor,” Sammy says, smiling.

Now, it’s Lincoln’s turn. He appears nervous in the presence of this Barbie femme fatale. If I didn’t know better, I’d say he was taken with her. I’ve never seen him flash a bigger smile.

“Ms. Pandino, what if I told you that Michael Hofstadter’s wife, Rosemary, honestly believed her husband was true to her? She believed him when he told her he was intimate with only her. She believed him when he said he loved only her. And she is prepared to testify to that in this courtroom.”

Sammy stood. “Conjecture and improper questioning of this witness, your honor.”

“Sustained.” Biggs hammers the gavel. “If the defendant is prepared to testify then let her.”

Lincoln tries again. “Ms. Pandino, you have admitted you entered into an adulterous affair with Mr. Hofstadter, is that correct?”

“He was married and I knew it and I dated him anyway. That is true. I let my heart rule my head, but I eventually told Michael if he loved me the way I loved him he should get a divorce, and until Michael actually took that step I told him I wasn’t going to see him anymore. So, I broke it off until the night Michael assured me he had asked his wife for a divorce.”

“How many months did you have an affair with Michael Hofstadter before you broke it off?”
Ginger sighs and closes her eyes. “I don’t know. As I said, I dated him way back when I was at UCLA.”

“I know, but I need you to tell this court how many months you had an affair with Hofstadter while he was married to his wife, Rosemary?”

“Six months maybe.”

“It took you six months to realize you were doing the wrong thing by entering into an adulterous affair with a married man, six months, before you all of a sudden decided to break off your relationship with him unless he got a divorce. Come now, Ms. Pandino, do you expect this court to believe you?”

Sammy raises his arms above his head like a winning fighter. “Objection, your honor. Counsel is badgering this witness. She has already testified to her relationship with the victim, Michael Hoftstader.”

Biggs hammers the gavel. “Sustained, move on, Lincoln. If you don’t have anything new to offer, please conclude with this witness.”

“One last question, your honor. Ms. Pandino, did you actually hear Michael Hofstadter ask his wife Rosemary for a divorce?”

“No, Mr. Lincoln, but he recounted the conversation to me, and knowing him as well as I did, I knew he was telling me the truth.”

“So, what you’re saying is, Michael Hofstadter told you he asked his wife for a divorce. You didn’t actually hear him ask her, and he didn’t actually swear on a Bible that he asked his wife for a divorce, isn’t that right?”

Sammy huffs like a quackless duck. “Objection, your honor, the defendant has already answered that question.”

Biggs hammers his gavel. “Sustained.”

Lincoln, with hands on his hips, says, “Who knows? Maybe you actually did believe Michael Hofstadter was telling you the truth, Ms. Pandino. His wife Rosemary certainly believed him when he told her he was faithful to her.”

Sammy stood up and approached the bench. “Ojection. Biased opinions of the defense counsel should be stricken from the record.”

“Sustained.” Biggs hammers the gavel. “Have you finished with this witness, Counsel.”

“Yes, your honor.”

Every eye in the courtroom seems to follow Ginger as she steps down and sashays up the aisle and out through the double doors behind me.

“Prosecution rests,” Sammy says.

Biggs hammers his gavel and we break for lunch.

(To be continued)

Thursday, September 10, 2009

King's visit to Sarasota

Stephen King is coming to Sarasota next week. Sadly, I can't go. I have to work.

His book on writing is the best on the subject I've ever read. It's called Stephen King on Writing. I think that's the title.

Here's the details on King's visit:

As part of his Under the Dome publicity tour, Stephen will be making an appearance at the Van Wezel in Sarasota, FL on November 16th.

He will be interviewed on stage by Susan Rife of the Sarasota Herald-Tribune and will also entertain questions from the audience.

The first 250 ticket buyers will receive a voucher (one per order) that they may use to purchase a pre-signed copy of Under the Dome, in the lobby, on the night of the show. Unsigned copies will also also be available for purchase.

Tickets will go on sale on September 13th.
CALL THE BOX OFFICE 941.953.3368
TOLL FREE 800.826.9303

Tuesday, September 8, 2009


Speaking of brainstorming, I bought a tiny iPod today. I plan to listen to the songs played during the time period of my new novel.

I think I have the title and the basic plot. It will be based on a trial I covered 20 years ago as a journalist. Fictional characters of course.

In writing this new novel, I've decided to take a different approach from what I've used in the past when I wrote Mardi Gravestone and Hurricane House. Both MG and HH are mysteries, and I'm thinking this book will be mystery/thriller, but to guide me in my new approach, I'm reading a book called First Draft in 30 Days.

Of course, this entire writing process begins with brainstorming.

I usually brainstorm in my head months prior to writing a book. Now, I'm thinking its time to make a soundtrack for my current project as this First Draft book says. My iPod is charging now.

I'll listen to the soundtrack while I'm driving. I drive quite a bit. The right music never fails to inspire, don't you agree?

I'll go shopping and buy something my main character would purchase. No problem as long as it doesn't cost an arm and a leg.

I'll continue to people watch.

Much of the research I have already done, but I'll cuts pictures from magazines and put them in a booklet so that I can look at the faces of my main characters while writing.

I'll continue to ask "what if" questions. This worked well with my first two books. Before I began Mardi Gravestone I saw a man fall from the back of a truck into the car behind. I asked, "What if that man fell into my car?

Before writing Hurricane House, I asked, "What if a hurricane hit a Florida fishing village with a murder at large?"

Another part of brainstorming is drifting off to sleep while thinking about my project.

And writing a bio on the main characters.

This First Draft book has a form: Character's name, age, race, eye color, hair color, build, skin tone, characteristic and mannerisms, personality traits and background. Then the outlining process begins.

Outlining is supposed to save time, provide continuity and allow me to write my polished novel faster.

We'll see.

If you're following along, let me know how you're doing.

Monday, September 7, 2009


My writer's imagination sometimes gets the best of me, especially when I receive an e-mail like this from a fellow writer.

Marilyn wrote: "I lost my purse on the UK Campus this morning. I have been mostly on hold all afternoon and managed to get 1 credit card cancelled. My last check book was in the purse. I have no checks, no cash, no credit cards, no driver's license, no insurance card. My whole life was in there. So if anyone wants anything, it will just have to wait a while - until I exist again."

After I read of Marilyn's crisis, I got the following e-mail from an attorney which I thought was helpful:

1.... Do not sign the back of your credit cards.Instead, put 'PHOTO ID REQUIRED.'

2. When you are writing checks to pay on your creditcard accounts, DO NOT put the complete account number onthe 'For' line. Instead, just put the last four numbers.The credit card company knows the rest of the number, andanyone who might be handling your check as it passes throughall the check processing channels won't have access to it.

3. Put your work phone # on your checks instead ofyour home phone. If you have a PO Box use that instead ofyour home address. If you do not have a PO Box, use yourwork address. Never have your SS# printed on your checks.(DUH!) You can add it if it is necessary. But if you have Itprinted, anyone can get it.

4. Place the contents of your wallet on a photocopymachine. Do both sides of each license, credit card, etc.You will know what you had in your wallet and all of theaccount numbers and phone numbers to call and cancel....Keep the photocopy in a safe place.

I also carry a photocopy of my passport when Itravel either here or abroad. We've all heard horror storiesabout fraud that's committed on us in stealing a Name,address, Social Security number, credit cards.

Unfortunately, I, an attorney, have first handknowledge because my wallet was stolen last month... Withina week, the thieves ordered an expensive monthly cell phonepackage, applied for a VISA credit card, had a credit lineapproved to buy a Gateway computer, received a PIN numberfrom DMV to change my driving record information online, andmore.

But here's some critical information to limit thedamage in case this happens to you or someone you know:

5. We have been told we should cancel our creditcards immediately. But the key is having the toll freenumbers and your card numbers handy so you know whom tocall. Keep those where you can find them.

6. File a police report immediately in thejurisdiction where your credit cards, etc., were stolen.This proves to credit providers you were diligent, and thisis a first step toward an investigation (if there ever isone).

But here's what is perhaps most important of all:(I never even thought to do this.)

7. Call the 3 national credit reportingorganizations immediately to place a fraud alert on yourname and also call the Social Security fraud line number. Ihad never heard of doing that until advised by a bank thatcalled to tell me an application for credit was made overthe internet in my name.

The alert means any company that checks your creditknows your information was stolen, and they have to contactyou by phone to authorize new credit.

By the time I was advised to do this, almost twoweeks after the theft, all the damage had been done. Thereare records of all the credit checks initiated by thethieves' purchases, none of which I knew about beforeplacing the alert. Since then, no additional damage has beendone, and the thieves threw my wallet away this weekend(someone turned it in). It seems to have stopped them deadin their tracks..

Now, here are the numbers you always need to contact about your wallet, if it has been stolen:

1.) Equifax: 1-800-525-6285
2.) Experian (formerly TRW): 1-888-397-3742
3.) Trans Union : 1-800-680 7289
4.) Social Security Administration (fraud line): 1-800-269-0271

Now back to the subject of writing, I'm challenging myself to write my next book--at least the skeleton of it--in 30 days. I bought a book on the subject and will keep you posted on my progress. Comments? suggestions?